French Literature

French Literature
  • French authors
  • Literature in the Middle Ages
  • Renaissance Literature
  • Classicist Literature
  • Rationalist Literature
  • 19th century Literature
  • 20th century Literature

20th century literature in France

The literature produced in 20th century France is of huge quantity and diversity, including not only the works of novelists, essayists, critics, playwrights and poets, but also the papers of anthropologists, scientists and other influential thinkers.

The Novel

Just as in the 19th century, in the 20th century the novel continued being the main literary form to be employed. Many changes on political, social and economic fronts influenced the novel, such as the world wars, globalization, the cinematographic boom, the introduction of paperbacks and huge publishing houses, among others. Despite all these changes and influential factors, the French have managed to respect and maintain language and form.

Some famous authors and novelists include Paul Bourget, Pierre Loti, Colette, Marcel Proust, Jules Romains, Roger Martin Du Gard, François Mauriac, Georges Bernanos André Malraux, Édouard Peisson, Roger Vercel, and Joseph Kessel.

Around the middle of the 20th century, fiction authors moved away from the standard novel form, creating the nouveau roman or new novel, sometimes called the antinovel, in which elements such as the plot, message, style, theme, chronology were dispensed with. Authors who adopted this form of writing included Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Vercors, Nathalie Sarraute and Alain Robbe-Grillet, among others.

On the other hand, there were also authors who continued adhering to the more traditional form of the novel, some of which are Georges Simenon, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gilbert Cesbron, Jean Louis Curtis, Pierre Daninos, Henri Queffelec and Roger Peyrefitte.


Many theatrical groups were created during the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century, the first of them being the Théâtre Libre. Playwrights such as Jules Renard and Eugène Brieux, among others, used drama to express the new social realism. Symbolism was also a style used in drama, especially by Maurice Maeterlinck and Paul Claudel.


Poetry flourished mostly in the early decades of the 20th century, with the works of poets such as Paul Claudel, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Valéry. Around the second decade of the century, a group of poets emerged, adhering to a style produced by the Surrealism movement, while at the same time another group of poets emerged opposing the movement. After the 2nd World War some of the French poets with outstanding works included Jacques Prévert, Francis Ponge, Jules Supervielle, Raymond Queneau and Kateb Yacine, among many others.